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Barela v. Finn

January 28, 2009

ERNEST M. BARELA, PETITIONER,
v.
CLAUDE FINN, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Vaughn R Walker United States District Chief Judge

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

Petitioner Ernest M Barela, a state prisoner incarcerated at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, CA, seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 USC § 2254 challenging the California Board of Prison Terms' ("BPT") March 29, 2007 decision to deny him parole.

Per order filed on July 15, 2008, the court (Goldner, MJ) ordered respondent to respond to the petition for writ of habeas corpus. Respondent has filed an answer addressing the merits of the petition and petitioner has filed a traverse.

I.

In 1979, petitioner pleaded guilty to kidnap for robbery in the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Stanislaus and was sentenced to an indeterminate term of seven years to life in state prison.

Petitioner has previously been found not suitable for parole when he has appeared before the BPT. On March 29, 2007, the BPT again found him not suitable for parole and denied him a subsequent hearing for one year. Petitioner then challenged the BPT's March 29, 2007 decision in the state courts. After the Supreme Court of California denied his final state habeas petition, the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus followed.

II.

A.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), codified under 28 USC section 2254, provides "the exclusive vehicle for a habeas petition by a state prisoner in custody pursuant to a state court judgment, even when the [p]petitioner is not challenging his underlying state court conviction." White v Lambert, 370 F3d 1002, 1009-10 (9th Cir 2004). Under AEDPA, this court may entertain a petition for habeas relief on behalf of a California state inmate "only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 USC section 2254(a).

The writ may not be granted unless the state court's adjudication of any claim on the merits: "(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 USC § 2254(d). Under this deferential standard, federal habeas relief will not be granted "simply because [this] court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Williams v Taylor, 529 US 362, 411 (2000).

While circuit law may provide persuasive authority in determining whether the state court made an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, the only definitive source of clearly established federal law under 28 USC section 2254(d) rests in the holdings (as opposed to the dicta) of the Supreme Court as of the time of the state court decision. Id at 412; Clark v Murphy, 331 F3d 1062, 1069 (9th Cir 2003).

B.

Petitioner seeks federal habeas corpus relief from the BPT's March 29, 2007 decision finding him not suitable for parole and denying him a subsequent hearing for one year, on the ground that the decision does not comport with due process. Petitioner claims that the BPT improperly based its decision on the unchanging facts of his commitment offenses and past criminal history and that the evidence cited by the BPT is not reliable evidence that he poses a current danger to society. Petitioner also claims that his continued incarceration violates the terms of his plea agreement.

Under California law, prisoners serving indeterminate life sentences, like petitioner, become eligible for parole after serving minimum terms of confinement required by statute. In re Dannenberg, 34 Cal 4th 1061, 1069-70 (2005). At that point, California's parole scheme provides that the board "shall set a release date unless it determines that the gravity of the current convicted offense or offenses, or the timing and gravity of current or past convicted offense or offenses, is such that consideration of the public safety requires a more lengthy period of incarceration." Cal Penal Code § 3041(b). Regardless of the length of the time served, "a life prisoner shall be found unsuitable for and denied parole if in the judgment of the panel the prisoner will pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released from prison." Cal Code Regs tit 15, § 2402(a). In making this determination, the board must ...


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